The crisis has been dragging on for five years now, six years in some sectors. The situation is slowly starting to improve, but we’re not there yet. Lots of companies are getting to the ends of their reserves, mental fortitude is wearing thin, and belief in better times ahead is made more difficult by governments doing too little to improve the business climate. So we will have to weather the storm ourselves.

But times of crisis make us uncertain, and uncertainty makes people more cost-conscious, which in turn leads to more control and so also more overheads. Management boards have to realize that control affects employees’ levels of involvement and commitment, and so also their motivation. Control results in people having to spend more hours achieving the same result. Add to this the added pressure that times of crisis put on prices, and it becomes clear to see why even more work is required to generate the same turnover as before.

Basically, employees are put under too much pressure. They work more hours for the same pay, perhaps become less motivated, and might even fear losing their job. The result: all this uncertainty means people get stuck in a relentless cycle that doesn’t give them anything other than too much stress.

Better results from working less

Let’s think in a cost-conscious way. Get rid of all the excessive control in unnecessary layers of management; it’s better to create an environment in which employees’ levels of involvement and commitment can grow. This will lead to improved performance and a better working atmosphere. Stimulating employees’ involvement helps companies achieve better results at lower costs with fewer working hours and less stress. Give employees the space to balance their skills and responsibilities. Stability is a key factor here: avoid lurching from unnecessary costs in good times to big savings in times of crisis.

Five fruitful crisis measures:

  • Clearly communicate challenges and corresponding solutions;
  • Create an environment in which everyone shares everything, including mistakes, so people can find solutions together;
  • Ask groups of employees to develop proposals for cost optimizations that do not threaten the business impact;
  • Stimulate ideas that help increase your services’ impact on clients;
  • Don’t lose yourself in excessive bureaucracy or complex procedures.

Despite all the available books and training courses on empowerment, motivation, stress and delegation, too many organizations are compelling their managers to exert extensive control. This is well-intentioned, but it just serves to aggravate the effects of the crisis by putting more pressure on managers to control employees at all levels. It results in more work in the form of extra reports, and management teams spend more time attending meetings. They think they are gaining control by following employees’ emails in cc when in fact this traffic is actually just taking up more of their time. So stop the crisis for yourself by limiting the levels of control to a minimum, and focus on developing your strengths.

As organizations grow, their activities are divided logically across departments that each have their own head of department. The heads of department have to ensure maximum performance, and the senior management has a clear view of who they can talk to about which subjects. The people responsible within the department bring clarity and calm. And if everything’s going well, the senior management will ensure sufficient coherency between the departments.

Unfortunately this type of organization has a tendency to become derailed. In practice, the heads of department are not adequately stimulated to constantly look at the bigger picture. Their objectives are aimed too much at their own department and the result is they end up building silos – working methods that are not beneficial for other departments are not necessarily adapted. A matrix structure can help rescue this situation, but it just feels like a bureaucracy.

Competition between departments is the norm within a silo structure. Signals are no longer picked up or used sufficiently in a turf war. And if customers stay away, it’s because the sales department is not doing its job properly. And if no visitors are coming to the stall, it’s because the marketing department is not doing its job properly. And if we can’t find good people, it’s because the HR department is not doing its job properly.

In this situation, only silo busting can rescue you. Breaking up these silos with projects can be a good start. A project looking at customer satisfaction goes further than the restrictive marketing walls. Engineers can put together a multidisciplinary team for product innovation. The entire management team is made partially responsible for the company’s employer branding.

Projects such as this are not sufficient in the long term; they just stem the bleeding for a while. To really break out of the silos in a sustainable way, the mentality of the management and the employees needs to change. Employees must gain an understanding of the company’s vision, mission and concrete objectives. They need to understand where colleagues are working from ‘over the wall’ This understanding leads to insights into their own contribution, and these insights lead to solutions that are good for the entire company and not just for a specific department. Company results improve and individual motivation increases.

You might still have to massage one issue away: The differences in performance between the departments will lessen, and a previously successful department manager can become less visible. So an ointment for dented egos can come in handy.